Report: Israel has a long way to go to reduce health-reducing environmental factors

Environmental health directly affects human health, with almost a quarter of all diseases attributed to environmental factors, killing an estimated 12.6 million people around the world annually.

December 18, 2017 06:27
2 minute read.
child patient

A worried mother and her child talking to a doctor. (Illustrative). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The 2017 Environmental and Health Report – produced jointly by the Health Ministry and the Environment and Health Fund – examines the progress of research, knowledge and regulation in health and environmental issues. The report examines environmental factors that affect health – air quality, tobacco smoke, drinking water, pesticides, chemicals in food and consumer products, non-ionizing radiation, climate change and health trends affected by the environment (including that of cancer and asthma).

The report also includes a review and examination of significant issues not addressed in the previous report, including irrigation using effluents; health aspects involved in the planning processes regarding such issues as ammonia storage and garbage-dump location; and an overview of environmental impacts on the health of sensitive populations.

The report notes that in recent years, there has been a decrease in the level of certain air pollutants; the national plan for reducing air pollution in the Haifa Bay has been approved; and environmental standards have been set for additional pollutants. Yet, said the report, the quality of air in certain locations in Israel requires improvement, and there should also be an investment in reducing air pollution from cars, with an emphasis on reducing travel and investing in sustainable public transportation.

The average person spends up to 90% of his or her time indoors and may be exposed to a variety of contaminants that may affect his health. There is little research here on indoor air quality and regulation in the field is insufficient, the report said.

The ministry is currently investigating the extent of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in children and non-smokers. As for drinking water, the increasing amount of desalinated water that has had the magnesium and iodine removed poses danger to health due to mineral deficiency, but magnesium has not yet been added to drinking water.

While the ministry is aware of dangerous chemicals in children’s toys, playground equipment paints and other consumer products, not enough is done to prevent the presence of heavy metals in these objects, the report says.

In recent years, many chemicals in the environment have been examined and removed from Israel, and regulations have been amended to deal with permitted levels of pesticide residues in food. However, there is a need for improved enforcement of the sale and use of agricultural pesticides, the report concedes.

In recent years, the ministry has conducted health assessments as part of the planning process, including phosphate mining in the Barir field, the expansion of a quarry in the city of Elad and the evaluation of landfill for construction and soil waste in Jerusalem.

However, health considerations “are not always taken into account in many planning projects, and the ministry has no representation and voting rights in many of the planning committees in Israel,” the report said.

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